Breast cancer is a serious illness affecting millions of women across the globe. If breast cancer is discovered, your doctor will determine the extent or stage of the disease with the help of various tests available. It is essential that you know the different tests available for the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. Early detection is crucial for successful disease treatment and management.
A physical examination by a physician or nurse is usually the first step. The exam may also include ultrasound and mammography. Based on these assessments, the decision to perform a biopsy may be made.
Imaging helps in diagnosing breast cancer as well as assessing the stage and extensiveness of the disease. Ultrasonography, mammography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the breast are three main types of the imaging techniques used. Based on the results of these tests, your physician might suggest additional testing or therapy, or they may decide that no treatment is required.
Mammogram is considered one of the commonly used breast cancer screening tests for women. It can detect breast cancer even before any symptoms appear. A mammogram creates images of the breast by using low-dose X-rays. Screening mammograms can detect the carcinoma of the breast early, sometimes up to 10 years before you or your doctor notice it. All women over the age of 40 should have a mammogram every year.
This mammogram is used for diagnostic purposes rather than screening. For example, if a patient has a lump in their breast, a focused investigation of that region is performed. This is also performed when a specific breast finding is being monitored over time. A diagnostic mammogram is case specific and is monitored closely by a radiologist doctor, who examines the images and helps determine whether additional tests are required.
Ultrasonography, which employs high-frequency sound waves, can be used to determine whether a lump is filled with a solid or fluid. This exam, in conjunction with a diagnostic mammogram or MRI, may be used to give answers about a particular area of the breast. Ultrasound, which uses sound waves rather than x-rays, gives information that is distinct from and quite often complementary to a mammogram.
MRI of the breast
MRI is a technique used to examine the breast specifically in breast cancer diagnosis. Each exam generates hundreds of cross-sectional images of the breast in all three different directions to be interpreted by a radiologist. It can detect lesions that are not visible on ultrasound or mammography. Breast MRI in general is a non-invasive technique that uses no radioactivity, thus posing no health risks.
A biopsy is one of the diagnostic tests used for breast cancer. It helps determine whether an abnormal tissue or a breast lump is malignant (cancerous). A biopsy involves the removal of a part or the entire suspicious tissue by a surgeon or pathologist. A pathologist examines the suspicious tissue under a microscope, looking for tumour cells and making the diagnosis.
Fine needle aspiration (FNA)
FNA samples a female’s lump with a thin, tiny needle, which leaves a mark no larger than a blood test needle. FNA enables a doctor to make a diagnosis of a lump in as little as a day or two.
Stereotactic biopsy or core biopsy
This biopsy serves as a less invasive method of obtaining a specimen for diagnosis. It includes the use of a biopsy needle while the breast is pressed (compressed) in a way quite similar to a mammogram for removing the breast tissue sample. If a mammogram reveals an abnormality that cannot be felt, a doctor may consider this procedure.
Open or surgical biopsy
A surgeon performs open biopsy by removing a portion (incisional biopsy) or the entire lump (excisional biopsy) for its microscopic examination. When the lump is tiny or hard to find by touch, a surgeon sometimes uses wire localisation prior to surgery to trace out a path to the mass. A wire could be inserted under mammogram guidance or ultrasound.
Sentinel node biopsy
It is a lymph node biopsy, where carcinoma would be most probable to spread first. In the event of a breast tumour, a sentinel lymph node biopsy is generally done on a sample obtained from the axillary lymph node region. This test helps detect the presence of carcinomatous cells in the lymph nodes of the cancer-affected side of the breast.
A note from LivLong
Lastly, breast cancer tests are critical for the early identification of breast cancer. Women should see a breast cancer specialist or visit a breast cancer hospital for regular breast care, especially if they are at a high risk for it. Mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and MRIs are helpful in diagnosing breast cancer, but biopsies are required to confirm a diagnosis. There is currently no blood test that can conclusively detect breast cancer.
Women should also be aware that cysts in breast are common and usually are harmless, but any changes such as breast pain or abnormalities in the breast must be evaluated by a doctor. Regular breast cancer screenings can aid in the detection of breast tumour at an early stage, when it is most treatable, resulting in better patient outcomes.
What tests are done to check for breast cancer?
Breast cancer can be detected using a variety of tests. The following are some of the most common breast cancer test names: a mammogram, a clinical breast exam, breast ultrasound, breast MRI, and a biopsy. Women should discuss which tests are appropriate for them and how frequently they should be performed with their physician.
Can a blood test detect breast tumour?
Blood tests are not helpful in diagnosing breast cancer; however, they may provide information about a person's overall health. They can, for example, be used to help determine whether a person is healthy enough to receive treatment or undergo surgery.
Is the breast cancer test painful?
The experience of a breast cancer test can differ depending on the type of test used. A few tests may be painful or uncomfortable, whereas others might be painless. For example, mammograms can be uncomfortable or painful for a few women, while MRI and ultrasound are painless tests.
How long does a breast tumour test take?
The time required to complete a breast cancer test varies according to the type of test being performed. A mammogram and breast ultrasound usually takes 20–30 minutes to complete, including time for breast positioning and image processing, while breast MRIs could take as long as an hour. Biopsy procedures can last 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the type of biopsy and the number of tissue samples required.